Cruising the coast with Butch Ward and MDOT. New Port Connector gobbles up Ward and the Turkey Creek watershed.

Anita Lee at the Sun Herald sets the table as all the finest are assembled, from the elected crooks that run MDOT to Jefferson Parish garbage guy Butch Ward as well as former Hancock Bank CEO turned Gulfport Mayor George Schloegel. The issue is the undeveloped lands south of I-10 between the Canal Road and US Highway 49 exits, a large parcel of which is owned by Ward. The local citizenry, most of whom are minorities, should be grateful the plan wasn’t to open a landfill there. Rather it was to be additional retail space to compliment the Outlet Mall but that conflicted with the path of MDOT’s new North-South expressway to Wiggins and points beyond being coordinated with the improvements at the State Port. Here is a snippet:

The environmental agreement MDOT reached with federal agencies would forever end proposals for commercial development just south of I-10 between U.S. 49 and Canal Road. The agreement also would allow MDOT to go forward with construction of a state port connector road from I-10 to U.S. 90, a route crucial to the port’s plans for expansion.

The road would destroy 162 acres of wetlands. In exchange, MDOT plans to buy and place 1,638 acres in perpetual conservation easements. The state Department of Marine Resources would own the land, but about 447 acres on both sides of Turkey Creek would be managed by a nonprofit, the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain.

Enter Mayor Schloegel who is concerned over the impact to the city’s tax rolls:

Schloegel said the Ward family, who owns about 1,000 acres of the land, had plans to open Creosote Road south of I-10 from Prime Outlets west to Canal Road.

“It’s my understanding that a good bit of this area is in a wetlands zone, but also that there is approximately 400 acres that is high and dry,” the mayor said….

Later on in Anita’s piece we find Mr Ward is engaged in litigation on issues related to the property with both MDOT and the US Army Corps of Engineers though I doubt it anything salacious like his partnership with John Alerio and company over at the Riverbirch landfill though we’ll see what we can dig up via PACER as there may be a story behind the story here.

Despite the strange nature of certain of the participants, the local environmental movement is delighted. A blurb on this appeared at the Environmental Law Institute’s website:

A proposed road alignment in 2007 by the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) would have filled 162 acres of the Turkey Creek watershed. But after working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, other state and government agencies, and the community, MDOT and EPA Region 4 negotiated a landmark agreement to protect more than 1,600 acres of wetlands in this serene basin, while ensuring the construction of an important highway to connect the coast with inland transportation routes. In the March-April issue of the National Wetlands Newsletter, Duncan Powell and William Kenneth Dean look at how the various stakeholders contributed to conserving these valuable wetlands.

So this sounds like a win-win for everyone but the City’s tax rolls, at least over the short-term. Our readers can find the MDOT addendum here and I’ve embedded the MDOT mitigation graphic via Scribd:

[scribd id=28861406 key=key-15yw18oi8cposl2j7wo2 mode=list]

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